Atlantic Coral Ecosystem Study (ACES) and Environmental Controls on Mound Formation Along the European Margin (ECOMOUND)
Coral reefs are usually associated with warm, tropical waters and exotic fish, but not with the cold, deep and dark waters of the North Atlantic where corals were regarded as oddities on the seafloor. It is now known that cold-water coral species also produce reefs, which may rival their tropical cousins in terms of the species richness of associated marine life. Increasing commercial operations in deep waters, and the use of advanced offshore technology have slowly revealed the true extent of Europe's hidden coral ecosystems. The discovery of extraordinary, 10 km-long chains of the reef-building corals Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata in several hundred metres of water on the Norwegian and Irish Shelves have deeply challenged conventional views. The same coral assemblages are also found associated with large seabed structures in the Porcupine Seabight (offshore Ireland), where they are so abundant that their skeletal remains have, over the millennia, contributed to carbonate mound structures up to 300m high in 700-1200m water depths. The potential of cold-water corals to contribute to the formation of these large seafloor features and their high biological diversity have attracted considerable public attention through reports in numerous national TV and newspaper features.
Of these locations the Darwin Mounds are rather special and it has been proposed to designate them as the UK's first offshore Special Area of Conservation. Here are some interesting links about the Darwin Mounds:
For more information on our findings please refer to the following publications:
Currently, and after the success of ACES and ECOMOUND,
cold water coral and carbonate mound research on the European Margin is
being carried out within the HERMES programme.